Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

ARLINGTON, Texas - You and I and everyone else who follows football know Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning messed up spectacularly in the season opener Sunday night.

But save your breath complaining about it. They know it, too, and all too well.

The duo at the helm of the Giants for the past dozen seasons took turns after a devastating 27-26 loss to the Cowboys accepting responsibility for an inexplicable pair of late-game decisions.

StatsGiants vs. Cowboys boxscore

"It's my fault at the end of the game," said Coughlin, off to an exceedingly bad start in a season that probably will determine whether he returns in 2016. "Nobody else to blame but me."

A few minutes later, his newly re-signed quarterback followed him to the interview podium and said, "That's 100 percent on me. That can't happen."

Before we get into the particulars, let's make this clear: Whatever Coughlin and Manning did wrong, they merely were the headliners of a total team effort.

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The much-maligned defense, which played an exemplary bend-but-don't-break game most of the night and forced three game-changing turnovers, collapsed on the Cowboys' two way-too-easy fourth-quarter touchdown drives. "A knife through butter," Coughlin said.

The much-ballyhooed offense sputtered most of the night, settling for field goals, dropping key third-down passes -- yes, I mean you, Preston Parker -- and finding Odell Beckham Jr. only five times for 44 yards. But back to the coach and quarterback, two guys who should know better.

The Giants led 23-20 with 1:43 left and had third-and-goal at the 1. The Cowboys were out of timeouts. Run the ball for a touchdown and the game essentially is over. Run the ball for no gain and the clock runs under a minute by the time the Giants kick a field goal to make it 26-20.


Instead, Manning rolled to his right and, under pressure from the Cowboys' Sean Lee, threw the ball out of the back of the end zone, stopping the clock.

Football 101: Run the ball! And if your coach insists on a pass and you are one of the NFL's most experienced quarterbacks and no one is open, fall down.

"The decision to throw the ball there on third down was not a good decision, and it should have been a run," said Coughlin, who has the final say even if coordinator Ben McAdoo made the original call. "Whether we scored or not, the clock would have at least given us a chance to take a few more seconds off. We wouldn't have had the points, but we could have run the ball and the clock would have run, run, run. We line up, take a timeout, kick the field goal."

What about Manning? Couldn't he -- shouldn't he -- have bailed out the play call by bailing on the play and taking the sack? Said Manning, "That's 100 percent on me right there, bad clock management through that whole deal. I should have definitely taken the sack and run those 40 seconds off the clock and given them less time."

Manning, who muttered to himself and shook his head as he got dressed, said there should have been no need for a reminder from the coaches. "I've got to know that, 100 percent," he said. "I've got to know the circumstances and not take a chance."

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Tony Romo, whose 11-yard pass to Jason Witten with seven seconds left -- followed by the extra point -- won it for the Cowboys, charitably backed the Giants' coaches. "It's a good call," he said. "It really is. I know everyone in hindsight would do things different." But no one who roots for the Giants -- nor the Giants themselves -- will buy that.

The Giants can recover from this. Far stranger things have happened in the NFL. But on Sunday night, Coughlin said the disappointment "is not going to go away from me." Not anytime soon.

What did he say to his players? The same thing he told the rest of us. "We didn't win and I take full responsibility for it," he said, "because the strategy was obviously wrong at the end."